projects in progress projects in progress projects in progress

Monitoring and managing genetic diversity in Sitka spruce

Carried out by: Forest Research/Edinburgh University

This study will quantify baseline levels and changes in genetic diversity during the course of the UK's Sitka spruce genetic improvement programme.  Using microsatellite markers, the study will first determine the quantitative measures of genetic diversity in native QCI populations and unimproved commercial stands of Sitka spruce in the UK to estimate any reduction in genetic diversity that occured in the introduction process.

The project will then go on to measure how this introduced genetic diversityhas changed as a consequence of the different tree improvement strategies, either seed orchards or vegetative propogation, employed to produce stock.

The study will provide important information to help guide the future development of the Sitka spruce improvement programme.

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Predicting impacts of extreme weather events in UK forests

Carried out by: Stirling University

This research will integrate new and existing tree-ring data on Picea and Pinus species to deliver a predictive understanding of the change in tree risk, resistance, recovery and resilience to drought, in the dominant commercial conifer species in the UK. Industry outputs will include dissemination via forest industry forums, maps, and probabilistic risk and vulnerability functions which will be integrated into the decision support systems (including the online Forest Research DSS system) available and widely used by UK forest managers. Academic outputs will include scientific articles and conference presentations.

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Studying a mycovirus from Dothistroma septosporum

Carried out by: Imperial College London

Further to recent research supported by the SFT, the research team at Imperial College have identified  a D. septosporum isolate harbouring a double-stranded (ds) RNA mycovirus belonging to the family Chrysoviridae. The aims of this research are (1) to provide insight into the effects of the virus on host growth and virulence, and therefore its potential as a biological control agent against Dothistroma needle blight (DNB), and (2) to understand the molecular mechanisms underpinning these effects by investigating the transcriptional and small RNA profile of the D. septosporum isolate in the presence of the virus. Ideally by the completion of the project it should be possible to link fungal growth and virulence phenotypes with specific groups of genes up- or down-regulated in virus-free and virus-infected isolates and propose a RNA silencing based mechanism to explain this differential expression. The research is expected to take up to 2 years.

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Using satellite imagery to improve Hylobius prediction

Carried out by: Forest Research

Hylobius can cause significant damage on seedlings, especially on restock sites. Forest Research (FR) is attempting to refine the current Hylobius Management Support System by building models to predict ‘site-to-site’ movements of Hylobius between clearfellings. This relies on an understanding of when movements will occur between ‘sources’ and ‘sinks’ in relation to felling dates.

In this context, satellite imagery will be used to track the location, scale and timing of newly felled areas so that they can be timely categorised as ‘sources’ or ‘sinks’ and linked to the seasonal patterns of Hylobius. To do this, FR is adapting the US Forest Service LandTrendr application to construct monthly estimates of areas being felled using time-series of Landsat imagery complemented with the EU-satellite Sentinel-2. This technique undertakes a web search for the best available pixels that configure satellite images at a particular location. The best pixels are then stitched together to give a Best Available Pixel (BAP) mosaic.

The desired outcomes will be a better prediction of Hylobius forest-scale movement, a minimisation of insecticide inputs and beating up and the reduction of the fallow period.  


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Putting UK Bats on the map

Carried out by: Forest Research

This is a two-year project that will provide a key evidence base for all woodland owners, managers and others with a regulatory responsibility to account for bat species when planning and carrying out woodland work and developing national guidance and forestry strategies.

To make consideration of bats more straightforward and well-informed, habitat suitability modelling (HSM) will provide open access maps that predict the likely presence of bat species in woodlands, alongside information on the underlying ecological and management drivers.

Coupled with the modelling will be the first UK working trial of a woodland monitoring technique designed under contract for Defra. Species data gathered from this trial will be fed into the HSM to test and improve predictions. This trial will inform the development of future national citizen science monitoring techniques under the umbrella of Bat Conservation Trust's National Bat Monitoring programme.

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Improving Biodiversity in Lowland Planted Woodlands

Carried out by: Falkland Stewardship Trust/Dr Rick Worrell

Woodlands planted on arable land and improved pasture fail to develop woodland plant communities and remain dominated by grass and agricultural weeds; even in old woods. This severely limits their biodiversity value, including impacts on some invertebrate populations; and reduces the amenity and recreational appeal of the woods.

This can be addressed via careful introductions of missing woodland plant species aimed at simply establishing small viable populations that can colonise the wood over time. There are a few trials of woodland plant introductions in Scotland and England; but none have used this approach and are suitable for long term monitoring and research.

Research Objectives:

a) Establish long term demonstration sites to test the feasibility of introductions, provide evidence of outcomes, refine methodology and seek cost-effective approaches.

b) Arrange training events focused on good conservation management of lowland planted woods.


1) a paper(s) describing improved management practices;

2) enhanced understanding and professional capacity amongst managers;

3) a long term research resource;

4) a student dissertation.

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Mapping impacts of Phytophthora austrocedri in juniper

Carried out by: Centre for Ecology and Hydrology/Forest Research/University of Cambridge

A key component of resilience of forest ecosystems to pathogens is understanding environmental and ecological processes that favour establishment and spread for effective targeting of mitigation methods.

Such conditions are poorly described for new oomycete Phytophthora pathogens that are damaging forest ecosystems in Britain.

Phytophthora austrocedri is now known to be causing extensive dieback of Juniper, a declining UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority species, in Scotland and northern England.

This project aims to (1) determine how topography, climate, hydrology and host community structure interact to favour disease establishment and spread from field scale to landscape and regional scales (2) understand how conditions favouring juniper population persistence interfaces with conditions favouring disease establishment and (3) develop spatial tools that map P. austrocedri impact on juniper populations for geographical targeting of conservation and biosecurity measures.

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Improving the understanding and management of Phoenix Trees

Carried out by: Dr Rick Worrell/Falkland Stewardship Trust

Mature broadleaved trees in Scotland’s windy climate blow over, but a proportion re-root and continue to grow. These become interesting, ecologically important and attractive trees; with considerable appeal to the public. This phenomenon is rarely fully appreciated by woodland managers and phoenix trees are at risk from firewood cutting, browsing and being swamped by bracken. The process may constitute an adaptive response that helps some types of native woodland persist in Scotland’s windy climate and in the face of huge grazing pressure. The objectives of the work are firstly to describe the phenomenon and to evaluate its ecological importance, so as we understand it adequately. This will include carrying out a survey of phoenix trees, recording their distribution, species, sizes, ages, morphological characteristics, the ecology of sites and associated epiphytic species. The second is to raise awareness primarily among professionals (but also more widely), and to encourage better management practices. The outputs will be management guidelines advising on evaluation and protection of trees and a popular article drawing attention to the ecological importance of the phenomenon.

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The Ecology and Genetics of Native Scottish Crab Apple

Carried out by: Dr Rick Worrell/Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh/Falkland Stewardship Trust

Crab apple (Malus sylvestris) is probably Scotland’s least researched and understood native tree species, and this project sets out to remedy this by providing ecological, genetic and management information. It is a rare but ecologically valuable species that is currently undervalued in forestry. Importantly, the species is known elsewhere in Europe to be at risk from hybridisation with domestic apples – rather like the situation with Scottish wildcat. The objectives of the work are to: a) Carry out an inventory of wild-grown apple trees, recording their morphology and the ecology of the sites and woods they occur in; b) Have an RBGE student investigate the problem of hybridisation and describe genetic variation using micro-satellite markers; and c) Make a collection of scion material from trees which the genetic analysis shows to be true crab apples and establish one or more clonal seed stands. The outputs will be management guidelines, with advice on planting, seed collection and genetic conservation.

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Development and Publication of Tree Work Guides

Carried out by: Arboricultural Association

This project creates a suite of supporting technical guides which will provide detailed, practical guidance for arboricultural operatives. Building on the recent development of the Industry Code of Practice for Arboriculture, the guides will describe "industry good practice" and will support training programmes and provide the benchmark standards for a range of practical arboricultural operations.

The guides will be designed to be accessible to operators with high quality photographs and illustrations and will be available during 2018.

The guides will cover

 - Tree Access

- Use of Tools in the Tree

- Rigging

-Use of Cranes in Arb

- Use of MEWP's in Arb

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Shaping the Future of Forestry

Carried out by: Sylva Foundation

This project helps to support the undertaking of another in the series of British Woodland Surveys carried out by the Sylva Foundation in partnership with Forest Research and the Universities of Oxford and Bangor.

The survey will include engagement of landowners, scientists and policy makers throughout Britain which ultimately will lead to the production of the survey results in 2017, gathering state of the art intelligence about British forestry and will disseminate the results widely.

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Epidemiology of Phytophthora ramorum on Larix spp. and host responses to infection

Carried out by: Forest Research/Oxford University

Forest ecosystems in Britain are highly vulnerable to invasive Phytophthora spp., including Phytophthora ramorum, which is causing severe economic losses to larch across the west of the country. This PhD project aims to investigate natural resistance in larch to P. ramorum by studying disease epidemiology and variations in host response. This will enable a greater understanding of the potential to exploit natural resistance/tolerance to P. ramorum in a larch breeding programme. The specific project objectives are; i) investigate the epidemiology of P. ramorum on larch in SW Scotland, ii) determine whether differences in susceptibility occur between European larch (EL) and Japanese larch (JL) to EU1 and EU2 lineages of P. ramorum, and iii) examine the molecular interactions between P. ramorum and JL and EL in order to identify key host immune responses. 

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Woodland Planting and Natural Flood Management

Carried out by: Heriot Watt University

Woodland expansion is a key objective of the Scottish Government, strategic to mitigating climate change, stimulating economic development and supporting sustainable flood management. This case study based project therefore aims to quantify the contribution of large-scale (up to 50% catchment area) woodland planting for Natural Flood Management (NFM) purpose. Field monitoring of runoff and sediment delivery will be analysed for different cultivation areas (ploughing, excavator mounding, hand mounding, rotary mounding, screefing). Complementary data will also determine the effectiveness of good practice controls (e.g. restricting furrow length/depth; vegetation filter strips; silt traps). Numerical hydraulic models will then appraise how flood risk is altered by planting techniques and controls, including future scenarios for woodland maturation. Outcomes intend to influence the planned Forestry Commission’s ‘Practice Guide’ and SEPA’s ‘NFM Handbook’ on managing forestry for flood risk benefit. Collaboration includes Heriot-Watt University, Tillhill Forestry, Forest Research, Clackmannanshire Council, JBA Consulting and SEPA.

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Silvicultural diversity and birds in Scots pine forests

Carried out by: British Trust for Ornithology

A collaborative study by the BTO, with Forest Research and Forestry Commission Scotland, to discover the effects for bird populations of changes in forest management, from clear-fell rotation to more naturalistic continuous cover forestry.  Most of Britain’s forest cover is plantations and their management significantly influences populations of woodland birds at national level. Selected sites will be monitored using timed point counts in stands of different structure representing different management systems. Generalised linear mixed models will be used to analyse data and identify the nature of associations of bird species presence and abundance with forest structure. Field methods will be compatible with a previous clear-fell Sitka spruce study to permit joint analyses. The study will produce guidance on relative gains and losses associated with different systems, to inform Scottish and UK forestry practice, increase biodiversity benefits and possibly lead to a European study to maximise biodiversity within commercially managed forests.

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Ownership effect on benefits from woodland expansion

Carried out by: Forest Research/University of Edinburgh

Despite afforestation over the last 100 years, woodland cover in Scotland remains low in both a historical and European context. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment provided evidence that over 60% of ecosystem services (ES) are currently being degraded/used unsustainably (MEA, 2005), and biodiversity loss continues, with over 18% of species and 33% of habitats thought to have been lost in Scotland  (Hughes and Brookes, 2009). In addition, the challenge of climate change means that species are struggling to adapt, and there is increasing need for mitigation through carbon sequestration, with afforestation being seen as an important way to achieve this. At the same time, there is increasing debate over land reform in Scotland and the implementation of the Scottish Land Use Strategy which aims for responsible stewardship of Scotland’s natural resources to deliver more benefits to Scotland’s people (Scottish Government, 2011).

These challenges present an opportunity to evaluate the impact of previous woodland expansion on ES (Thomas et al. 2015), by assessing how ES vary in different contexts and what trade-offs exist between woodland and other land uses. The recent growth and improvement in methods to quantify ES (ES indicators) means that there is an excellent opportunity to make use of new tools for ES evaluation which have not been used before.

The following research questions will be addressed in the course of this four year PhD:

1. What has been the impact of woodland expansion on ES to date?
2. How do key woodland ES vary under different ownership and governance types?
3. What types of ownership and governance are most effective for achieving woodland expansion and provision of ES?
4. What are the synergies and trade-offs between woodland ES and ES from other land uses?
5. What are the most sustainable and resilient models of ownership and governance for achieving woodland expansion and provision of ES given alternative climate change and socio-economic scenarios?

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Who Will Pay for Urban Forest Climate Regulation Services?

Carried out by: Southampton University/Forest Research

This PhD research project is a collaborative undertaking between the University of Southampton and Forest Research to analyse the extent to which Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes can promote investment in urban woodlands as a means of minimizing the impacts of climate change in
built‐up areas.

Specific research questions are:
(1) Who is best suited to provide urban woodland ecosystem services?
(2) What is the magnitude of willingness-to-pay (WTP) for these services?
(3) How do time, uncertainty and knowledge affect WTP and thus PES design?
(4) Would a voluntary or institutional PES be more appropriate?

Methods will include a literature review, GIS mapping to identify three case studies, choice experiments with a range of experts and multi-criteria analysis.

Outputs will include the PhD, three journal papers and at least two conference presentations.

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Multi-taxa functional diversity in UK plantation forests

Carried out by: Edge Hill University; Forest Research

This project will determine functional diversity in UK plantation forests. The objectives are to (i) determine changes in species and functional diversity of three taxonomic groups (ground dwelling beetles, ground vegetation, birds) in a chronosequence over a 20 year period; (ii) assess resilience of these taxa to harvesting disturbances across bioclimatic zones and forest types, and, (iii) to determine how spider species and functional diversity are influenced by bioclimatic zone and plantation forest type across the chronosequence. Expected outcomes include long-term (20 years) and large scale (two bioclimatic zones) assessments of taxonomic and functional diversity in plantation forests using a multi-taxon approach. 

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Mapping and Repositioning Forestry Skills for the 21st Century

Carried out by: University of the Highlands and Islands & The University of Aberdeen

The multifunctional role of forestry and the diverse activities which it encompasses, operating across different fields, boundaries and activities is widely recognised as being of central importance to its development in the 21st Century. This project aims to address key issues related to educating and training future generations of forest professionals to address 21st Century needs in the UK, drawing on interdisciplinary (Sociology/ Social Sciences and Education) perspectives and methodological approaches. Based on a phased approach involving two PhD students, the first PhD will seek to explore the ways in which conceptual and theoretical frameworks such as multi- functionality and / or ecosystem services might be combined with a ‘Systems’ approach to enhance understanding of the educational and skills requirements of forestry in the 21st Century. Drawing on the findings of the first phase, the second PhD will seek to develop an understanding of the future aspirations and the key factors influencing career choices among young people in relation to forestry. The Project will make an important contribution to addressing the lack of theorising which currently characterises the evidence on training and education, in forestry as well as other sectors grappling with similar challenges and drivers of change (e.g. agriculture, rural development and so on). The project is a collaboration between the University of the Highlands and Islands- Inverness College and the University of Aberdeen.

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Regeneration & growth models for MOSES-GB

Carried out by: Forest Research Agency/Bangor University

MOSES-GB is a distance-independent individual tree growth model based on the MOSES (MOdelling Stand rESponses) concept that was originally developed in the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU), Vienna, Austria.  This 3-year PhD project augments the development of MOSES-GB continuing within the Forestry Commission’s Forest Research Agency.  The models produced during this PhD project will simulate the patterns of regeneration and early growth of tree species likely to be managed under low impact silvicultural systems (LISS) in Britain.

This work will add the following crucially important functionality to MOSES-GB:

• the simulation of realistic, species-specific, patterns of seedlings on bare ground – whether occurring as natural regeneration or planted
• a mechanism for incorporating details of existing seedlings or transplants through the development of an easily-applied field survey protocol
• accurate modelling of the early growth of key tree species.

Further information about the MOSES-GB mixed-age and mixed species stands modelling project can be found on the Forest Research website.

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The impact of commercial woodland management on temperate insectivorous bats

Carried out by: University of Bristol / University of Cumbria

Renewable energy legislation and increasing fuel prices are stimulating use of alternative energy sources. Woodfuel production is gaining momentum. A Forestry Commission initiative aims to encourage and facilitate woodfuel management, support rural woodfuel business and remove barriers to production. Wildlife legislation is seen as a barrier to woodfuel production, yet suffers from a deficiency in empirical evidence.

Bats account for a third of UK mammal species. All species have seen a marked declined over the last century and are afforded full protection under European and domestic legislation. A change in woodland management has shown to impact on woodland foraging bat species and their prey. This PhD project will investigate bat and prey communities in broadleaved woodlands.

We hypothesise that managing for woodfuel production will be beneficial for invertebrate and bat communities and, as such, this research is expected to provide new evidence that should facilitate greater uptake of commercial woodfuel production in the UK.

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Can ecological restoration help build sustainable communities?

Carried out by: Cardiff University

The PhD will study the implementation of integrated socio-ecological restoration initiatives at community level to deepen understanding of how ecosystem-human relations can contribute to community engagement processes and the building of sustainable communities. It will focus on a particular type of ecological initiative - ecological restoration (ER) - to study the ways in which ER projects have been implemented at community level in Britain. Although playing an increasingly important role in public policy responses to environmental change (including maintenance of ecosystem services and promotion of ecological resilience), ER has not been subject to in-depth social science analysis. 

Specific Research Objectives include:

• Create a better understanding of the role and function of ER as a tool for promoting community engagement and sustainability, and gain insight into the social acceptability of ER.
• Understand the conditions for achieving successful community participation in ER, looking in particular at how they involve place specific issues and attachment processes.
• Develop a critical awareness of the governance conditions surrounding ER (such as participation and regulation) for building community adaptation to environmental change and community resilience.
• Demonstrate the value of multi-method research involving in depth qualitative longitudinal case studies for studying dynamic participatory processes and social surveys for measuring the effectiveness of ER interventions.

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How environment and gene flow shape adaptation in Scots pine

Carried out by: Dr Alistair Jump (University of Stirling) with Dr Stephen Cavers (CEH Edinburgh), Dr Richard Ennos (University of Edinburgh) and Dr Joan Cottrell (Forest Research)

Recent trials at CEH show local adaptation in bud burst and cold tolerance in native Scots pine populations along an environmental gradient from East to West Scotland.  However the vast majority of observed variation lies within populations. This project aims to determine how large- and fine-scale forces interact to maintain high-within population diversity and what the implications of geneflow from plantations are for native pinewoods. The project will use existing data and simulations to assess historical migration scenarios and the development of patterns of neutral and adaptive genetic structure. These data will be complemented by fine-scale analysis of genetic structure in selected native pinewoods.

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Advanced Assessment of Minor G.B. Conifer species

Carried out by: Edinburgh Napier University

The aim of this project is twofold. Firstly to provide a preview of how noble fir (Abies procera), western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), Norway spruce (Picea abies) and western red cedar (Thuja plicata) perform in Great Britain in terms of harvested crop quality for solid wood applications. Little is known of the timber properties of these domestically grown resources, but the probable increase in planting, due to concerns over pathogenic risks to our main timber commercial species  warrants this investigation. Secondly, the aim is to develop methods of measuring tree architecture using state of the art terrestrial laser scanning technology and to develop improved acoustic assessment for determining wood stiffness in standing trees; methods that would be of benefit to the forest sector. 


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